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Belter Dining Room Chairs

Year: c. 1855
Medium: Oak, laminated
Maker: John Henry Belter
Size: Height, 40"; Width, 19"; Depth, 18"
Original Location: Formal Dining Room

Provenance: Chairs were sent from Belmont Mansion to Adelicia Acklen's home in Washington, D.C. in 1887-1888. Inherited by Pauline Acklen Lockett and passed down to her grandson, Franck Kaiser. On March 24, 1932, chairs were shipped to the Kaiser home in St. Louis, MO.

Twelve of the original dining room chairs, from a possible set of twenty four, are once again in Belmont’s formal dining room. These chairs were purchased over a number of years from Mrs. Franck Kaiser, the widow of Adelicia’s great grandson. These chairs were taken to Washington, D. C. by Adelicia when she moved there in 1885. They were used at the house she built on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington until 1932. From Washington the chairs went to St. Louis.

The chairs are the work of New York City cabinetmaker John Henry Belter (1804-1863). Belter was born in Germany and is considered America’s leading cabinetmaker around the middle of the nineteenth Century. Belter immigrated to America in 1833 from Stuttgart, Germany. He exhibited his work in the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in 1853. Belter’s work bridged the gap from the eighteenth century hand craftsmanship to the innovative use of lamination and steam pressure of the future.

These chairs illustrate well two of Belter’s three important patents: Machinery for Sawing Arabesque Chairs and improvement in the method of manufacturing furniture. (It should be mentioned Belter utilized and improved upon techniques developed in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. He was far from the only manufacturer to make use of laminated forms during his time.) His latter patent refined the process of laminated construction of the furniture. Belter’s process steamed the laminated panels, used for the backs of chairs, under great pressure in molds. This process achieves the form fitting curve in the back. The back of the seat’s outer edges curve away from the seat forming an “S” effect when viewed from the top. As an added accent to this curve, he also produced a scroll effect at the bottom of the back where it attaches to the seat.

This same effect is found in the pair of slipper chairs in the Gloria and Richard Manney Collection, at Winterthur Museum illustrated as number 25 & 25a in The Furniture of John Henry Belter and the Rococo. But the Belmont chairs relate most closely to number 23 in the same collection. As in the Manney chair, the Belmont chairs are of oak with seven layers of lamination. At mid-century oak was a popular wood for dining room furniture, a carryover of the Gothic Revival period. The skirt and legs of both chairs are identical. The backs of the Belmont Chairs are more delicate in construction and utilize thinner members.

The chairs retain their original finish. The black leatherette upholstery on the chairs appears to be c. 1890-1900, under which a glazed cotton upholstery is found likely dating from the Acklen period.

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